17 July 2014

In China’s Sights: A New Missile Threatens the U.S. Navy’s Biggest Warships—And Stability in the Pacific

Mark Thompson, “In China’s Sights: A New Missile Threatens the U.S. Navy’s Biggest Warships—And Stability in the Pacific,” Time, 28 July 2014, 33-36.

There are few things as awesome as a U.S. aircraft carrier—100,000 tons of nuclear-powered steel towering 20 stories above the waterline and crammed with nearly 70 warplanes ready to do its nation’s bidding. A carrier reassures allies while giving pause to global trouble- makers. For more than a half-century, these 1,000-ft. flattops and their 5,000-sailor crews have patrolled the seas with impunity. The Navy apparently believes they have a future too: it is building two new ones, at a cost of nearly $15 billion each, with a third in the pipeline. Admirals like to call a carrier “412 acres of sovereign American territory.”

But these mighty fighting machines may be losing some of their invincibility, at least in a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of China. Since 2010, Beijing has deployed a new kind of land- based ballistic missile with the potential to change the balance of power in a volatile and vital part of the world. The Dong Feng-21D missile is what Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College calls a Frankenweapon, a marriage of several existing military technologies that together could transform war. Launched from a truck, it can fly almost 1,000 miles over the ocean, homing in on its target during the final moments of flight before diving into the ship from above. …

As the debate continues, the U.S. Navy is going to be mapping out the projected range of the DF-21D and deciding whether to send warships within range or to stay back and risk looking weak. “China appears to be intent on fielding a system that directly threatens U.S. carriers,” Naval War College expert Erickson says. “The game and its governing rules are changing, whether Washington likes it or not.” …


Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications, Jamestown Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, May 2013).

Andrew S. EricksonHow China Got There First: Beijing’s Unique Path to ASBM Development and Deployment,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.12 (7 June 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Channels Billy Mitchell: Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Alters Region’s Military Geography,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.5 (4 March 2013).


For other analysis and sources on Chinese ASBM development, see “China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches Equivalent of ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC)—Where It’s Going and What it Means.”

Detailed analysis by top subject matter experts of Chinese ASBM development and strategic implications is offered in five dedicated chapters in Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein, eds.Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011).

For an explanation of Chinese ASBM development and its larger implications, see the China Maritime Studies Institute Lecture of Opportunity, “Chinese Sources Discuss the ASBM Threat to the U.S. Navy,” that I presented at the Naval War College on 21 March 2011.

For detailed analysis of Admiral Willard’s statement regarding China’s ASBM reaching IOC, see Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC),” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 14 (26 December 2010).

For further background on Chinese ASBM development, see also “China Testing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM); U.S. Preparing Accordingly–Updated With Latest Analysis & Sources.”